Another cable swindle

Comcast thanks customers for helping build its Wi-Fi network with higher fees

It looks like Comcast customers are in for another price hike, this time not on programming charges but on the fees they pay to rent our broadband modems. Several Comcast customers told Ars Technica that their home internet gateway fees have risen from $8 to $10. Those prices reflect the new rates Comcast began setting for its latest modems, which support its new Xfinity Wi-Fi Hotspot service.

The timing of the fee increase couldn’t be more apt, given Comcast is angling to buy up Time Warner Cable next year. It’s bad form to promise regulators that your merger will bring greater competition and more consumer options and then raise a significant billing fee by 25 percent. But [company]Comcast[/company] also risks inflaming those regulators. While the Comcast-[company]Time Warner[/company] deal was once seen as sure thing, my colleague Jeff John Roberts reports that the deal now may be on much thinner ice.

What’s most galling about this price hike, though, is that it’s being charged on newer equipment that Comcast is using to build its new residential public Wi-Fi network. Comcast is building a nationwide Wi-Fi network on the backs of its residential and business customers’ home gateways. Its new modem/routers create two Wi-Fi networks, a private network for the customer and a public network accessible to any other Comcast customer. Comcast is basically asking its customers to pay the cost of building that public network by charging them higher equipment fees.

There’s a simple way to avoid the fee, and that’s to purchase your own modem (here’s a list of Comcast certified devices), but the vast majority of Comcast’s customers resort to rentals. I count myself as one of them, though for a time I did buy my own modem. The problem was is that modems can break or they become outdated. Even though I knew I would save a lot of money by purchasing my own gear, it wasn’t worth the inconvenience.

In part I’m lazy, but there was also a cynical calculation on my part. In my experience my internet connection has always been the most problematic of the services Comcast provides. By using Comcast’s modem rather than my own, that’s just one less excuse for Comcast’s horrible customer service to use when my broadband goes down.

The $10 fee hasn’t shown up on my bill yet, but I’m definitely reconsidering my decision to rent rather than buy, and the reason isn’t just cost but a matter of principle.

When Comcast first proposed its Wi-Fi sharing plan, I was all for it. By using its customers home broadband connections to build a wireless network, you create a situation where cheap broadband is available to more people in more places, and that’s a direction all ISPs and carriers should be moving in. But the way Comcast has implemented this plan has been less than transparent and more than just a little unfriendly to its customers, providing little information to consumers on when and how hotspots are enabled on their modems and little or no option to opt out.

What started out as a great idea for Comcast to work with its customers to create a communal broadband network has started to look more like a company taking advantage of its customers to grow its network reach. And now Comcast appears to be asking its customers to foot the bill for that growth.

The ironic thing is that if this new fee drives customers away from Comcast’s gateways, then its hotspot network will shrink not grow. But while some customers may opt to buy their own gear, my bet is most people will just eat this new fee.

12 Responses to “Comcast thanks customers for helping build its Wi-Fi network with higher fees”

  1. voice of reason

    there stealing power also especially when it has to pull higher voltage cause some random is streaming 2k or any video or gaming on your connection

  2. Andrea Glass

    Oops, looks like I duplicated the word “not” in my post and I don’t see a way to edit it. It should read ” Does anyone NOT buy a computer, laptop, or smartphone because they can become outdated”

  3. Andrea Glass

    I don’t understand anyone not buying their own modem because it can get outdated. I’ve had the same modem/router for years with no issues. Does anyone NOT not buy a computer, laptop, or smartphone because they can become outdated?

  4. James Comfort

    A negative result of Comcast’s public WIFI in my condo is that occasionally my IPad drops my private network and automatically switches to the public service,which is much slower. It took me some time to recognize the problem. Comcast’s “technical helpers” generally maligned my customer owned modem for the problem. Thank you Comcast!

  5. Two years ago I bought my own DOCSIS 3.0 modem and installed it. Saved $7 per month on my bill, right? Bill went from $133 to $126 – but only for about 6 months. In September 2012 Comcast increased its fees. TV and internet fees both increased so the bill became $136.
    The TWO FREE DTAs began costing me $1.99 per month each. Those are the devices that make the features of my big-screen TV useless since the DTA controls ON/OFF, channels and nothing more. One started being unable to give us certain channels and finally failed a few months ago, and I got a replacement (I was told it is HD capable) that cost me nothing additional.
    Fees increased again since then – twice. Today the Comcast bill is $147. Now they charge $1.50 per month to provide broadcast TV that come through via OTA signals for free. If I didn’t like TNT and USA and my wife didn’t like HGTV, I would go to broadcast / antenna TV which provides a HD signal without charging me $10 more every month.

    • This is exactly why I got off Comcast and went to Uverse. I got tired of all the fees they kept piling on, like the airlines. Uverse speed isn’t as good, but overall they’re easier to deal with. I’m sure though AT&T will eventually copy Comcast’s fees. I would also cut the cord if my wife was willing to live without Food Network.

  6. Not buying modem because it’s going to be outdated? Come on, just buy a docsis 3.0 modem fir under 75 bucks and be done with it. It will pay for itself after initial 8 months.

  7. The swindle angle doesn’t appeal to me – everything could be cheaper – but the price increase is interesting in terms of what it says about Comcast’s enthusiasm for its Wi-Fi network. I agree that higher rental fees are likely to drive people away from Comcast’s Wi-Fi routers and make its footprint shrink, so does this move say that Comcast is giving up on blanketing the nation with Wi-Fi, or do they think they’ll still have plenty good coverage with fewer access points?

    Their current access points are pretty mediocre as they have 11n but not 11ac. They probably have a lengthy qualification process and a small pool of prospective vendors building D3 devices, but still they’ve had enough time to roll out a non-obsolete access point. Sometimes these companies make me scratch my head.

  8. sethtrosenblum

    “By using Comcast’s modem rather than my own, that’s just one less excuse for Comcast’s horrible customer service to use when my broadband goes down.”

    I’ve actually found this to be the opposite of the case, albeit with TWC and Cablevision. Having my own modem means that not only is the stock Motorola software on there, instead of the CableCo’s crapware. It also means that I can log into the modem before calling and say “I rebooted my modem, it’s showing as having no upstream signal”. This gets you past the “maybe something’s wrong with your computer/router/modem” tech very fast, and on to the signal diagnostics.